A Baltimore family, originally from Bavaria, which has occupied an important place in the Jewish community and in municipal life since the early years of the nineteenth century. Its first representative in America was Jacob I. Cohen, who came from Oberdorf, near Nördlingen, Bavaria, in 1773, and settled in Lancaster, Pa. Thence he removed to Charleston, S. C., and, after serving in the Revolutionary war, to Richmond, Va. Here he was joined, in 1787, by his brother, Israel I. Cohen, whose wife and seven children—the oldest son being eighteen years of age—went to Baltimore in 1808. The children were Jacob I. Cohen, Jr., Philip I. Cohen, Mendes I. Cohen, Benjamin I. Cohen, David I. Cohen, Joshua I. Cohen, and Miriam. I. Cohen.
The older sons soon participated in public life. In 1812 the name of Philip, and in 1822 that of Jacob, Jr., appear in the list of members of the exclusive organization, The Ancient and Honorable Mechanical Company of Baltimore. In the War of 1812-14 Philip and Mendes were members of Captain Nicholson's Company of Fencibles, and served in the defense of Fort McHenry during its bombardment. At his death, in 1852, Philip was postmaster of Norfolk, Va.
With the exception of Philip, all the brothers remained in Baltimore. The oldest, Jacob, Jr. (1789-1869), was the founder of the banking house of J. I. Cohen, Jr., & Brothers, and was identified with the struggle for political rights of the Jews in Maryland (1818-26). This struggle terminating favorably to his coreligionists, Jacob was immediately elected (Oct., 1826) as the representative of the sixth ward in the first branch of the city council. He was repeatedly elected to this body; and for several successive years he acted as its president.
For the first nine years (1830-38) of its existence he served the board of public school commissioners as secretary and secretary-treasurer. Jacob was also one of the projectors of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, and for a long time its vice-president, remaining a director untilhis death. He was also a director of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and for twenty years president of the Baltimore Fire Insurance Company, besides being prominent in many public-spirited enterprises.
The third brother, Col. Mendes (1796-1879), after his retirement from the firm in 1829, traveled extensively in Europe and the East, and brought back with him the objects that form the Cohen collection of Egyptian antiquities in the Johns Hopkins University. He served a term in the Maryland House of Delegates (1847-48), was vice-president of the Hebrew Benevolent Society for over twenty years, and was prominently identified with the establishment of a Jewish hospital in Baltimore.
The sixth brother, Joshua (1801-70), was a physician, and one of the earliest aurists—perhaps the first—in the United States. He occupied the position of professor of geology and mineralogy in the academic department of the University of Maryland, was president (1857-58) of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, and a member of the American Philosophical Society. Together with a friend, he established an eye and ear institute in Baltimore. He has left one publication, "Post-Mortem Appearances in a Case of Deafness." His library, interesting to Biblical students, is preserved at the family residence.
A son of the fifth brother, David I., is Mendes Cohen (b. 1831), a distinguished civil engineer, now (1902) living in Baltimore. His career began in the locomotive works of Ross Winans. From 1851 to 1855 he was one of the engineering corps of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. From 1855 to 1875 he served the following companies either as assistant superintendent, superintendent, comptroller, or president: the Hudson River Railroad, the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, and the Pittsburg and Connellsville Railroad. During 1892-93 Mendes was president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and in 1894 President Cleveland appointed him a member of the board to report upon a route for the Chesapeake and Delaware Ship Canal. Since 1884 he has been corresponding secretary to the Maryland Historical Society; since 1892, a member of the Municipal Art Commission of Baltimore; since 1893, a member of the Sewerage Commission of Baltimore; and since 1897, one of the vice-presidents of the American Jewish Historical Society.
- Isaac Markens, The Hebrews in America, New York, 1888;
- Reports of the Commissioners of Public Schools, Baltimore, 1831-38;
- G. W. McCreary, The Ancient and Honorable Mechanical Company of Baltimore, 1901:
- Harry Friedenwald, The Early History of Ophthalmology and Otology in Baltimore;
- The Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, Aug.—Sept. 1897.